Monday, April 17, 2017

One Episode From the Finale - West Wing - Almost 11 Years Late

Look at those baby faces.

The year in 1999 and The West Wing came on the air. I didn't watch it.

Now it's 2017 and my wife and I (I didn't have a wife when the show first aired, and was married less than a year when the finale aired) are watching the show and after dedicating many hours over a little over a year, we are one episode a way from the finale.

Even those baby faces in the picture from season 1 aged over the series seven season run.

The show is truly enjoyable, created an era that was not designed for binge watching, but rather weekly serial watching the show still plays well back-to-back. Anyone who's obsessed will tell you that the best seasons are the first 4 when Aaron Sorkin was at the helm. And then...well...Season 5. It's a little rough and then by season 6-7 picks up into something different, but also very enjoyable as the characters are recaptured with strong foils and story lines.

In watching this show, it works well as a time capsule as well. The ideas that are discussed, while one could argue have a Hollywood/NBC liberal bent are not too extreme considering that the White House portrayed is a democratic White House. Instead, discussions capture topics that are still part of a political conversation, everything from the mundane (should we have pennies) to profound (what's the role of the court in privacy law). And as things have in some cases changed, the general story lines have remained the same.

Speaking of time capsules, this was a time period where the internet changed and technology. Watching the role of phones and computers alone is intriguing -- and even now has changed so much more.

In the vein of time capsules, the series is interesting as well because you have a parallel world on the small screen while some big events were happening in the real world, the most obvious mention is September 11, 2001. It's clear that this event was not anticipated and as the world changed the issues on the show had to catch up -- and while it took a little time, plot lines that did not involve terrorism eventually were introduced, but in many ways still minimized from what was surely the question of how does the show present this parallel world.

But more important that presenting political issues of the time, I found the show interesting in the way that it presents the Washington DC beltway. It's clear in this show that power is a finite resource and while most are intrested in advancing their view of common good it's all incremental with each people and role holding on to the power that they have available.

The magic in this show is really the writing. This show earns it's respect for witty fast paced dialogue -- especially when it involves Sorkin's trademark "walk and talk." I also look for and greatly respect the walk and talk in an episode, and even in the post-Sorkin episodes was sad to see people talking in offices, or cut aways that could have had compelling transitions as we see in early seasons.

The characters are good, and the cast -- like many shows transitions in some positive and not so positive ways in various seasons, but in many ways the best characters in this shows seem great because we trully believe them and they are written in a way that has good continuity so that we can see them develop and change.

I could easily try to call out this or that character as a best-of character, but in many ways the highly praised show received it's credit with a handful of awards and nominations, particularly acting awards and nearly all are well deserved (although the occasional celebrity cameo (Matthew Perry) falls out of place, other cameo's by celebrities come before people were stars and are true delights (Amy Adams).

Many episodes my wife and I would try to discuss which character we are most like, wish we were most like, which job we'd love, which job we'd hate, which job we could never do, and the discussions continue. After seeing C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney), and for that matter Toby (Richard Schiff) and Will (Joshua Milana) in the press room I will never see the press room the same -- that is a special and horrible place on earth I'd never want to stand.

And of the presidency...the American presidency is unfathomable and whether this is a genuine view or a romance, it is no more real or imaginable how one person, with an expensive staff could not only perform the duties of president, but also manage any iota of family life is unimaginable. Throw in the complexities of the first 100 days, the mid term elections, running for a second term and lame duck sessions and you realize that America has a very special and inefficient little machine that's been created -- with complexities never imagined by the founding fathers (security or a press core flying on Air Force One).

So, nearly 11 years after the original finale, it's sad to see these people go (who already left), and at the same time the stories of a presidency and the people in the West Wing could only be stretched out in a contrived way, and so in wrapping up, it's the end, and end of parallel universe era of the past that is delightful to watch, even though more actual election cycles have come and gone. Farwell president Josiah Bartlet.

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